Today we’re talking to Finnish visual artist Juho Könkkölä, who makes incredibly intricate paper figures from a single sheet of square paper.
Even more impressively, he does it without making any cuts or rips to the paper! The folding process (not including the design stage) can take 50 hours or more for a single 20cm figure.
Tell us about yourself. What do you make? What do you consider your best or favorite work?
I’m Juho Könkkölä and I am a visual artist who folds intricate origami figures. The figures are folded from a single square sheet of paper without any cutting. The paper sizes vary from 70cm x 70cm to 1m x 1m (ed. 27in x 27in to 40in x 40in), and the finished models are about 20cm (ed. ~8in) tall. Creating one character usually takes a few months to plan, design, and fold.
I love to put expression into the figures by making the clothes flow in the wind and to create the types of poses that support the character of the figure.
I have many works that have taken my art to new levels, many of them have been favorites at that time, but there are a couple that stand out for me.
This was my first origami design, which I began to work on almost 3 years ago. I later made a few adjustments and refolded it for an art exhibition last spring. The simplicity in the design still impresses me. Unlike many other designs, this one doesn’t use as difficult folds or structures and still manages to have a good amount of detail in the character.
This was probably the most difficult figure to fold. I spent dozens of hours trying to get everything to look like it is in the final artwork, and it was a struggle throughout the whole process. The bow and arrows are also folded from the same square sheet, without any cutting.
This was a more experimental work. I wanted to see what kind of things are physically possible to fold from a single square. Although I didn’t find the wall this time, maybe next time I’ll find the true limits.
The Assassin is probably my favorite work for a good while now. The character is largely based on the Outlaw, my first design. It has many upgrades I learnt along the years, which bring more detail and better definition for the character.
Tell us about your workshop/workspace
I don’t have a set workspace for my work, I can take my paper anywhere and fold wherever I want. I might fold on the cottage table, in the living room, in art residency, on the train, outside, or even in a café.
My only requirements are that the table is large enough for the paper and the workspace is clean. I don’t want my white papers to catch any dirt or impurities. Same applies to hand hygiene, the grease and dirt from hands can also ruin the works.
When I am test folding my new designs or I am just casually folding something, I don’t mind other people talking or making noise around me, I can still focus on the folding without any difficulties.
When I am working on my exhibition works, I want to get as far away from people as possible. The artworks require countless hours of intense concentration and very delicate handling. I don’t want any disturbances while I’m working, otherwise it would take me eternity to fold a figure.
How long have you been doing your craft? Who taught you or where did you learn?
I have been folding for over 15 years, most of my life. I began to fold simple things as a child and then gradually got more and more into the art until it really got out of hand.
I have never had a teacher; I have learnt everything on my own. I started to fold from books and then practiced folding more and more complex models.
There are plenty of good books and tutorial videos to learn. When you get experienced enough to fold most of the diagrammed models, it is time to move to crease patterns, which are much more difficult to understand.
Any advice for beginners to your craft?
In origami most beginners face a wall when the model is too difficult to fold and understand and then they quit. Or they see a beautiful model folded by someone else, then try it and fail, or they get discouraged when they see someone folding an extremely detailed and stunning model.
The models become difficult to understand fast, and some of the most complex models can look impossible to many people. My advice is to enjoy folding the simple models that bring joy for the person, instead of trying to fold too difficult models and burn out. I also advise against comparing yourself to others, it’s not the healthiest way to get into this hobby.
Many people ask me what papers I use to create my artworks. I use many different papers, mainly rice papers and other thin papers with long fibers, such as Wenzhou, Inoshi, and mulberry paper. All those papers are very difficult to fold and require special treatment to be properly foldable. I don’t recommend using these unless you have been folding complex models for years and need that little extra to get better looking results.
I recommend using the paper you have; it is better than folding nothing. Usually it will be printer paper, some cheap art paper, baking paper, or wrapping paper. You can fold simple models with these, but the easiest upgrade is origami papers, that can be found in 15-20cm squares in many places.
Who/what inspires you? Any shoutouts to fellow makers?
I have had a couple inspiring origami artists through my childhood. Most notable inspirations were Robert J. Lang, Kamiya Satoshi, Eric Joisel, and Chen Xiao.
Through Lang and Satoshi I found the world of complex origami, and their creations kept me folding for years. Later Joisel and Xiao influenced my early steps in designing my own first origami figures.
Recently I have begun to drift away from these inspirations and start to find my own journey in finding my own style and inspiration. Currently I get inspired from mythologies, folktales, history, and nature.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Your most important tools in your life are your mind and hands, so take good care of them.
For that reason, I don’t use many tools. Just a rounded toothpick will be enough for me to fold even the smallest details. My creativity, understanding and skills are the greatest limitations in my art, no paper or tool will solve those problems.